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Train Mode

Every morning I enjoy Train Mode. Each work day, I wait for a bus. Which I take to a train. Where I ride underground for about 35 minutes until I arrive at work. Then I rise zombie-like from beneath the ground and emerge to the light.

Each morning my mind races with all the things I could be, should be, might be doing. And then I don’t. I do a single thing.

When I step into a train, my phone becomes an island. I turn off all wireless communications. My phone is adrift in a sea of silence. No email. No social. No interaction.

I open Kindle. I read. I enjoy the blissful silence and focus of words on a page.

This past week I’ve read with my phone in one hand and a paper notebook in the other. I’ve written thoughts and pondered questions. I’ve interacted with the book in a real way.

Not passively reading, but reading to remember. Reading to know. I’ve ignored the rest of the world and for that short train ride, it’s just me, the words, and my thoughts. And it gets to happen again at day’s end. Where I wait for a train. To a bus. To home. All without the phone making a peep. Unless I put on music to drown out the song of public transit.

And it’s blissful.

Voting with your two feet

If your time is being wasted, ignore sunk costs and change your situation by voting with your two feet.

I was initially skeptical of these bite-sized chunks of advice, seemingly for the self-employed followers of bliss. Though as I make my way through Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life I awoke this morning with a different perspective. I thought, this is advice I could apply to my life as well. So I gave it a shot.

At first read, I thought this was telling me to quit my job and walk away. That’s not feasible for a life constructed around the stable income. One that gives my wife the freedom to experiment. I am the rock. She is the stone.

At second read, I took it to mean get up and take a walk.

When I have a problem I can’t solve, I hit my head against it until I was exhausted. Frustrated and no closer to a solution, I’m slowly learning to step away. To change my situation by voting with my two feet. To take a walk. Think about something else. Do anything else.

Even getting up to get a cold drink resets my mind. At a former job, we had a soda fountain in the building. When I hit a problem I couldn’t see my way past, I would walk by my co-worker’s desk and utter a single word. “Drink?” And with that, we’d head upstairs to the fountain. With icy cold Cokes in hand, we’d chat about life, work, writing, whatever weird Internet thing we’d come across that day.

Sometimes we’d ride the elevator all the way up, or all the way down. Just for a few extra moments of conversation. Sometimes with others, but often alone, we’d chat and laugh. Then, when I got back to my desk, fueled by good cheer, cold carbonation and a few moments of joy, I would stare down the problem. And more often than not, a solution would come to me.

So next time I come upon a seemingly insurmountable problem, or one I just can’t seem to think through, I’m going for a walk. And maybe a drink.

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